When visiting Vienna, there’s so much to see and do that I can’t imagine you running out of things to do. However if you do, or want to see something a little different, then you also have the opportunity of a Bratislava day trip. Bratislava, the capital of neighbouring Slovakia, is close to the Austrian border and only 67km from Vienna. Plus, as both countries are part of the Schengen Zone, there are no pesky border crossings to worry about. Here’s the rundown on all you need to know to have an enjoyable day off on a Bratislava day trip.
Let’s start with getting there. There are four options for travelling from Vienna to Bratislava: car, train, bus and boat.
By train, making a day trip to Bratislava is very straightforward as you just head to Vienna Hauptbahnhof (HBF) and an hour later you’re at Bratislava’s main station. There are two departures twice hourly on regional trains, that strangely have different pricing. Trains departing Vienna at ’15 past the hour will cost 16.4€ oneway, while trains at ’38 only cost 10.1€, and I can’t figure out why. Timetables at www.oebb.at/en/.
Visiting Bratislava by bus is just as easy. Also leaving from HBF, Slovak Lines offers an hourly service that goes to Bratislava’s bus station and airport. Tickets cost 5€ and can be bought either online or at the ticket office at either end. Please note that Bratislava’s bus station is written as Bratislava AS. While cheaper than the train, the bus trip will take 1.5hours so a bit slower than other means. There are other bus companies running this route, but none as cheap or running from HBF, as far as I know.
There’s also the option of trams in town, but I’ve yet to try taking one. Now I’ve only taken the bus and train, but I’ve heard good things about the boat trip down the Danube. By car seems pretty straightforward, with the drive likely to take you roughly an hour. If you’re driving a rental car, ensure there’s no issues with the rental agency about driving cross borders. Again, I haven’t done this so I’m unable to help beyond that. Overall, there are plenty of different means for making your day trip to Bratislava.
Once you’ve reached Bratislava, neither of the city’s train or bus stations are in the centre of town so either option requires a walk to the sights. For our purposes, a good starting point for several reasons is the triangular SNP Square (yes, the triangular square!).
Firstly, it’s the same distance from both stations at about 1.5 kms and will bring you to the edge of the old town. If you’re coming from the train station, you’ll also pass the Presidential Palace on the way. Secondly, it’s surrounded by some interesting buildings, lovely churches and curious statues. And lastly, after travelling over from Vienna and walking into town, you’re probably in need of a break.
On the square is a lovely coffee shop at Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, with good quality coffee, a wide range of delicious cakes and friendly staff. It may look touristy, but it’s reasonably priced and had many locals when we were there. Here you can take a moment to relax and gain some energy for the sightseeing to come. Also nearby, is the Old Market where you can find local food, wine and crafts on display.
Once you’re sated by your coffee and cake, head up the road from SNP Square to the Trinity Church on the corner. At the corner you should get your first glance of Bratislava Castle and give you a good idea of where to head next; Bratislava Castle. Heading along the pedestrian road of Kapucinska, you’ll continue to skirt the old town. The route to the castle should be plainly obvious, with the road taking you up the castle’s steep hill and behind the castle to one of its gates.
Up close to Bratislava Castle, you’ll really appreciate its sheer size and refined state. The castle’s immaculate appearance is due to the fact that the castle was actually in ruins for much of its recent history until its complete renovation in the 50s and 60s. Much like the castle’s inner gates and outside walls, wandering into its inner courtyard you will find more crisp white walls. While not overly decorative, I think the basic colour scheme adds to the castle’s massive stature.
From the castle’s upper walls and lower courtyards you’ll find spectacular views out over the Danube river and across the city’s rooftops. While Bratislava may not have the most dramatic cityscape, the old town does look quite quaint from above and the Danube is as impressive as ever.
After you’ve explored the Castle and appreciated its view, make your way down to the old town this time via the stairs on the side of the castle near to old town. Once you’ve made it into the old town, head towards the middle, appreciating the well-worn buildings as you pass through. Nearby are also some of the city’s There are some You should soon come across the streets of Michalska, with the iconic Michael’s Gate at the end.
This beautiful street also happens to be home to many restaurants and pubs, making it a handy place to stop for lunch. We took a chance on Segnerova Kuria, a Slovakian restaurant situated in a cellar off in a side alley, and were not disappointed. With affordable meals and plenty of local dishes to choose from, it certainly was a worthwhile gamble. While the restaurant appeared to be touristy at first, it turned out to be mostly filled with locals out for a weekend lunch.
If you’re not sure what to expect with Slovakian cuisine it’s similar to Germanic, Czech or Hungarian food, including things like goulash and bread or potato dumplings. Halusky (small dumplings) with sheep’s cheese and bacon, is a real favourite of mine. Oh, and they love a bit of strudel too!
With your belly full of dumplings, strudel and beer, it’s time to explore more of the city’s old town. Heading away from Michael’s Gate and forking off to the left should bring you to the city’s main square. The main square is home to some of the most elegant architecture the city has to offer. The square is also basically at the centre of the town, so you can off in any direction to further explore the old town and its parks, churches and architecture. If you’re visiting Bratislava, you’re bound to end up in the main square at some point.
You may notice though, that with the exception of the main square and near Michael’s Gate, most of the old town is in a surprisingly ragged state. You will certainly notice the contrast when coming from Vienna, where everything in the city centre feels exceedingly grand and in a highly refined state.
Probably the most eye-catching building off the main square is the Old Town Hall and it’s vibrant tiled roof. Walking through into its inner courtyard will show you more intricate architecture and woodwork. Continue through to the other side of Old Town Hall and you will come across another magnificent building, the Primatial Palace. Inside are a series of splendid courtyards, including a striking fountain of St George and the dragon.
Outside the Old Town
For those with bonus time up their sleeve, there are plenty more sights to see. There is the previously mentioned Presidential Palace; the Slavin War Memorial that overlooks the city; Castle Devin that lies on the Danube well outside the city limits; and the UFO Bridge, aka Most SNP. The UFO Bridge is actually an interesting sight and even has a restaurant in its flying saucer.
Not something I usually consider when travelling but I feel it’s worth a mention. Due to the lower cost of living in Slovakia than Austria, it’s not uncommon for Austrians to cross the border in order to save a few bucks. For Bratislava, the main spot close to the old town is the Eurovea Shopping Mall that lies along the Danube. Here you’ll find all the retail stores you’d expect to find, but likely cheaper than Vienna.
So, that should give you all you need to get started on a Bratislava day trip from Vienna. Visiting this curious city is definitely worth giving up one of your days in Vienna, which is also a cool city don’t get me wrong. If you’ve yet to visit Slovakia, this will allow you a glimpse into the country, without complicating your itinerary too much.
Have you visited Bratislava, either on its own or as a day trip from Vienna? What was your experience like? Got questions? Maybe I have answers. Please share in the comments below.
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